Sunday, April 20, 2008

Werk

No library shift for me yesterday, so it was an opportune time to head out to Motuihe Island with my friend Fab to do some tree planting as part of the Motuihe Island restoration project. The fair weather with occasional spitting was ideal for our activity, and soil conditions ten times better than my own garden. Hence, it was not as strenuous as I had expected, but I can't speak for the people like Fab who dug holes - I mainly carried saplings and planted them. With a group of less than twenty, we managed to get 507 trees into the ground that morning alone. Go us!

I was very tickled by the fact that we were literally carted around the island on a tractor, standing upright in our 'cage'. I felt like I was in a chain gang, sans the chains and abjection!

I don't consider myself a very physical person, even though I enjoy hikes/gardening, so the novelty of physical labour brought to mind the passage below from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. It is a beautifully-written extensive passage about the likeable aristocrat Levin's attempt at joining his peasants in their labour. Ignoring its political overtones, this passage is an exultation of the activity of work, the pure joy from working communally and the abandonment of intellectualisms.

"...The longer Levin went on mowing, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when his arms no longer seemed to swing the scythe, but the scythe itself his whole body, so conscious and full of life; and as if by magic, regularly and definitely without a thought being given to it, the work accomplished itself of its own accord. These were blessed moments..."

I remember being impressed by the length at which Tolstoy describes Levin's physical engagement. Levin also tries, unsuccessfully of course, to form some sort of camaraderie with his employees. His character is perpetually torn between two worlds: the intellectual life of the aristocrat (Tolstoy himself was a Count) and the physicality of the labourer.

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